Thinking Tech

Have archaeologists found the legendary lost city of gold?

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Researchers using a high tech technique known as "laser mapping" have uncovered an ancient hidden city beneath the dense of jungles of Honduras.

During his conquest of the Americas, Hernan Cortes learned of a mysterious lost city adorned with golden statues and vast riches. Cuidad Blanco, known as the birthplace of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, was said to lie hidden somewhere amidst the dense jungle of Honduras' Mosquito Coast. And as the legend grew, many explorers searched for it in vain. But now, scientists using a high tech method known as "laser mapping" believe they may have discovered the remains of the mythological "White City."

The way laser mapping works is similar to the way doctors use x-rays to peer inside a patient's body. In this case, archaeologists from the University of Houston used a technology called Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) in which a laser-equipped plane is flown over a specified region to scan for surface objects hidden beneath the cover of vegetation. Since the optical pulses can accurately measure the distance to its intended target down to the scale of a few inches, what has emerged is a detailed 3-D map of a site that appears to be man-made.

So even though none of the researchers have yet to excavate the site or even set foot in the city, all this probing from afar has already revealed "a large central plaza with a major pyramid at one end, smaller pyramids nearby and the remains of other structures around the plaza," the Los Angeles Times reports.

While a full excavation is still needed to determine whether the features of these ruins actually do resemble what's been described as the land where residents "ate from plates made of gold," the finding is significant in that it's just the latest example of how smarter technologies are revolutionizing the field of archeology. In September, David Kennedy, an archaeologist, used satellite-assisted software to capture detailed views of  a series of ancient man-made structures in Saudi Arabia that were eerily similar to Peru's  mysterious Nazca Lines, which date back at least 2000 years. And last year, archaeologists discovered as many as 17 lost pyramids buried in the sand during a survey of Egypt using infrared images taken from NASA Satellites.

Had they been forced to go about about their work using more traditional means, archaeologists would have faced some seriously tough obstacles that range from getting around strict political and religious sanctions to having to hack their way through a seemingly endless dense jungle with nothing more than machetes.

"This is just the beginning of this kind of work,"  Egyptology Sarah Parcak told the BBC at the time. "Indiana Jones is old school, we’ve moved on from Indy. Sorry, Harrison Ford.”

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure